Special 2-Part series about the art and science of facilitation and how it can help retain volunteers and produce better meeting while resolving conflicts. It covers how we pretty much dislike sitting in meetings but how specialized facilitation can save the day. Facilitation can also resolve the conflict that is killing our access! We must not fight amongst our organizational selves but rather be a united, team voice in the fights for freedom and access. Here is a formula for doing just that…
Stop Losing Volunteers, Run Better Meetings and Resolve Conflict with Facilitation
In my experience on a national level, there is nothing more devastating to our future access than losing volunteers and members!!!
And bad meetings combined with unresolved conflict drive off more volunteers than anything else I’ve encountered in 50 years of off-roading and 35+ years of land use. The solution is for more of us to learn to “facilitate.”
Webster defines “facilitate” as “to make easier.” Facilitation, says Webster, is “the increased ease of performance of any action, resulting from the lessening of nerve resistance by the continued successive application of the necessary stimulus.”
Facilitation is also part of coaching and nurturing, two critical components of keeping volunteers in the game.
Let’s start with a meeting. Whether you run your own meetings or use a facilitator, you still have the same objectives for most meetings. In a meeting of volunteers, to facilitate or act as a facilitator means several things:
1. To improve the efficiency of the meeting;
2. To get a desired outcome in the shortest period;
3. To eliminate group stress in getting through the agenda;
4. To keep the group on track and on time;
5. To stay out of the content and focus on the process;
6. To be a conduit of information flow so the group loses no ideas;
7. To possess the skills to help the group see through obstacles and conflict; and
8. To keep the group focused on issues (not personalities).
A facilitator is not necessarily the boss or Incident Commander (IC) of a project or planning effort, normally. In fact, it’s better if a third party does facilitate any meeting. You want your facilitator to be objective and not focused on the content.
A whiteboard can sometimes serve as the visual notes, but flip charts can be saved and used to transcribe notes. Either way, having a visual set of notes in front of your meeting attendees is important.
A boss or IC is likely to be too involved in the content to be a good, objective, process-focused facilitator. The group handles the content of the meeting; the facilitator focuses on the process to get there. So, when possible, appoint someone else to be the facilitator (if you’re the IC).
Obviously, you can run your own meetings, IC or not. You can use TARAC (see this meeting formula here) and have a great meeting, as long as you can wear both hats effectively. But be careful about being too much the IC when you’re the facilitator also. The group may perceive your ideas as the only ideas.
SIDE NOTE: This happens a lot with meetings run by Robert’s Rules of Order. People get hooked into processes and rules rather than facilitating the content. Big mistake. But it happens ALL the time in clubs, associations, and groups. It takes an effort to bust free from the strict rule book to making things happen and keeping volunteers involved.
The leader is always right?
You may have the “boss” syndrome that gives people the impression you’ve already got your mind made up. Heck, in many cases government agencies are the champs at this one…
In some cases, your mind will be made up. And you want your meeting to convey your ideas and plans. That’s fine. Let the participants know that. Their role is to absorb your ideas and follow through with actions. Perhaps their role will be to critique your ideas. That’s ok too. Just let them know what is expected of them in every meeting you hold.
In some businesses (usually larger ones), company staff will take turns facilitating meetings. For those that they facilitate, the facilitator learns to stay tuned in to process and not get involved too much in content. Obviously, if your ideas are critical to a meeting, you would not want to try to be a neutral or objective facilitator.
Flip charts taped to the wall serve as a critical visual reminder of what has been accomplished, talked about and left yet to do.
RICS and Meetings
Usually, a good IC appoints a facilitator to facilitate a meeting. Under the Recreational Incident Command System (RICS), the Planning Chief usually inherits the duties of the facilitator (or of finding one). The IC (boss, leader) sets the outcomes of the meeting, and the facilitator provides the process that helps the group to achieve the outcomes.
A good IC does not lose control of the meeting by using a third-party facilitator (or the Planning Chief). Why? Because if the IC sets up the mission, the goals, the objectives, and the expectations, as well as the specific outcomes of the meeting, the facilitator merely becomes another tool for the IC to get the overall job done.
It is critical to set up the outcomes of the meeting so that a facilitator is very clear on what to deliver by the end of the meeting. Let’s talk more about outcomes.
When I take a job as a professional facilitator, the first question I ask the meeting organizer: “What specifically will I put in your hands at the end of the meeting as I walk out the door?”
This helps me to pin down the meeting leader as to what are the desired outcomes of the meeting. I must know this in order to achieve them.
I am asking the IC for the expectations of me as a facilitator, for this meeting. What are the expected outcomes? What will it look like; feel like?
If you were responsible for the job of running (facilitating) a planning meeting for a trail repair project, you might ask the IC these kinds of questions before the meeting gets going:
“What specifically do you want me to put in your hands at the end of the meeting?
“Do you expect me to produce a fully written plan, or just the flip chart notes?
“Will there be a note-taker or tape recorder going so we don’t lose any ideas; or should I write everything down?”
“Do you expect me to get ideas from everyone, or just get down the ideas as they fly?”
For me, as a facilitator, I apply all these tools. I keep asking questions until I understand the mission, goals, objectives, expectations, and outcomes of this meeting. It’s most important to know exactly what it is you must deliver. Only then can you work toward delivering it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 as we get into Methods, Resources and more on the Process of Facilitation.